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Health, economy, and nuclear weapons: Who won the Scottish leaders' debate?

Health, education, the economy, nuclear weapons, prescription charges, coalitions, the living wage, oil, food banks - there was no topic left untouched by the STV Leaders debate as it proved to be an interesting - and at times, fiery - exchange between the leaders of Scotland's four main parties.

No topic was left untouched during the debate Credit: PA

It was, in fact, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson who earned the first applause of the night, asking SNP Leader Nicola Sturgeon how long her shopping list would get before May 7 - and if it would also be in contravention of the vote the country had just had on independence.

She was referring there to the bargaining chips the nationalist leader was planning to use when forming a ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour following the General Election.

And it was on that issue we saw the first exchange between the real protagonists of this debate - Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Nicola Sturgeon, with the latter declaring: ‘’I’m offering to make Ed Miliband Prime Minister, you need our help to do it.”

1-0 Nicola.

Sturgeon claimed Labour 'needed' the SNP if Ed Miliband is to become Prime Minister Credit: PA

The deals to be done in the event of a hung parliament dominated much of the debate, with the Liberal Democrat leader ruling out entering into a deal with a party (SNP) that "seeks to break up the United Kingdom’’, and Conservative Ruth Davidson ruling out entering into a deal with a party (UKIP) which looks likely to only win two MPs.

Independence, not surprisingly, was raised on numerous occasions - and this was where Nicola Sturgeon found herself briefly on the ropes.

After declaring that she respected the outcome of last years referendum and that this General Election was not a re-run, she was then drawn into whether there would be another referendum following the General Election depending on the result.

She answered that easily enough with a 'no', but couldn’t answer moderator Bernard Ponsonby’s follow up question quite so directly as to whether there would be another referendum following next years Scottish Elections - cue loud sighs (boos?) from the audience.

Sturgeon found herself briefly on the ropes as the issue of independence was raised Credit: PA

The final section of the debate provided Jim Murphy with a chance to land a point against his rival Nicola Sturgeon, declaring: “You could get away with a debate on cuts in England but not in Scotland’’

The Scottish Labour leader was buoyed perhaps by an undecided voter who say that she was "agreeing with everything Jim Murphy has to say" and that she would now be voting Labour.

"Now we just need to replicate that half a million times," quipped Murphy.

But he perhaps had not quite bargained for the sustained attacks he was to receive from Ruth Davidson.

In one of the most heated exchanges of the night, the Tory leader shouted (yes, shouted) that it was his party who “crashed the economy”.

Murphy’s retort was to say that the only thing that had grown under the Tories was the number of food banks - a service he had earlier described as disgusting and immoral in this day and age.

Labour came under sustained attack from Ruth Davidson, for the Conservatives Credit: PA

It was, after a rather somewhat slow start, a relatively lively affair.

So who came out on top? You’d have to say that Nicola Sturgeon put in another strong performance.

She’ll regret being caught out by Bernard Ponsonby on the question of a second referendum, but by and large she managed to bat away the attacks coming at her from all angles.

Jim Murphy also managed to put in a convincing performance, and with the polls the way they are, Labour will undoubtedly be clinging to the hope provided by that one undecided voter who said she was backing Jim.

Ruth Davidson was, as she is in the Scottish Parliament, a solid debater. She managed to rile both Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy.

As for the Lib Dems' Willie Rennie, well, I think he got the hardest time from the audience but other than managing to pull himself through that and launching a late attack on Nicola Sturgeon for her government "taking their eye off the ball" during the referendum, I think it’s fair to say he was the least best.

Will this change the polls in Scotland? Well that one voter being swayed to vote Labour is unlikely to prevent the predicted collapse of their vote, but with it all to do again tomorrow this could be Jim Murphy's chance to grasp another vote from the SNP's clutches.

After all, we are being told this is an election in which every vote will matter.